Landscape On The Horizon
The future looks like this
Landscape have a good record at overcoming barriers. Way back in the dim distant mid-1970s they got pub gigs when no-one seemed to be booking instrumental bands, let alone a group sans guitarist. They got jazz-rock records on their own label into the new wave charts amidst punk, punk, and a little punk. They had a danceable, electronic hit single last year that has provoked the customary 'knock 'em down' reaction from the weeklies. And their instrumental adventurousness alone makes them ideal subjects for MUSIC UK readers. 'We will always overcome things,' declares keyboardist Chris Heaton, as he and electronic trombonist Pete Thoms talked to Tony Bacon just before the release of their new, third album.
Pete: 'The album's been the main commitment we've had in the last six months, it's taken the tail-end of last year getting ready for it and the first three months of this year to actually finish writing it, rehearsing it, and recording it — we finished the day before Easter. We've gone for longer tracks, and fewer of them. There's a bit of space, which is nice, as the Tea Rooms album was a bit crammed. But these new tracks aren't light weight.'
Chris: 'It's much more pared down, and it's mostly a co-written album: six tracks are cowritten by all five of us, and two tracks are written by two and three members respectively. It's damn hard work doing the all-five-writing, but a very enjoyable way of doing it, a social way of writing.'
Pete: 'It means that as a group we have to be together a lot more often, and there's more of an interchange than there was with the previous album. There were a few tracks left over, in idea stage, from Tea Rooms that we didn't finish. One track, the ballad of the album, When You Leave Your Lover, Chris and I wrote that probably nine months ago as an instrumental, we spent quite a bit of time on that. Then we gave a copy of it to Richard and he was driving along listening to it and came up with the words.
Chris: 'Sort of playing by numbers! But it's made the album more homogeneous — the Tea Rooms album was like a lot of strong flavours that never blended, so you got distinct Peter Thoms sections, Chris Heaton sections, and so on, whereas it doesn't really appear like that on this album.'
Pete: 'Yes, a lot of bands spend a lot of time in the studio, just go in with say the lyrics and the chords, and all the other things happen afterwards. We like working where everything is more or less decided and thought out before, everyone knows what's going on. There's nothing worse than being in the studio and trying loads of ideas out and spending hours and hours saying that it doesn't quite work.'
Chris: 'And also, I think recording is capturing a performance. In a way, if you're actually there trying to work out what you want to do I think often you can lose a real perspective.
'For us, we went into the studio and, with just a few exceptions, we knew exactly what we were going to do so we could concentrate on how good, bad, or indifferent it sounded. In a way I think that's better, particularly with this album which is not a "production job", as it were, like Tea Rooms was — it's designed much more as a band playing. I think I'd like to go further than that on the next record — I'd actually like to do full rhythm tracks played with mics up, like a rock band.'
Pete: 'With this album all the drums are by computer except some things that Richard played first and then wrote out what he played into the computer, with maybe the odd tom tom fill over the top. The most successful rhythm tracks came out that way, where all the nuances were written into the computer, a lot of trouble gone to. But there's no reason why we can't actually go back to playing again, it's just how you happen to go through it. One track, Long Way Home, we tried it where Richard played the electronic kit along with Andy and Chris, like a rhythm section blowing through the track, but what they did was actually to record the clicks as he hit the SDS-Vs, and then got all the clicks and fed them back through the SDS-V module and worked on the sound afterwards. That was quite interesting — as it turned out we scrapped it (laughs)!'
Chris: 'We recorded some of it at Utopia, some at Alvic, a few other places but basically those two, mixed at Utopia, cut at the Townhouse.'
Pete: 'Most of the lead vocals are by Richard, a few by John, one by Chris, Andy did a tiny bit. We spent a long time on the vocals, and every track has a vocal of some sort - John and Richard have been taking lessons. There's more ambitious harmonies, less vocoder giving the impression of massed vocals as on Tea Rooms we tracked-up the voices quite a lot.'
Chris: 'We're using an MC4 microcomposer rather than the MC8 now, mainly to play other lines which are more guitar-orientated like pitched rhythm parts. It's essentially faster, and easier to transpose and copy parts. The cassette interface is good too, and because of that it makes it possible if you want to use it live. It's four channels as against eight, which limits you to some extent, but overall it is better. Also, you can plug things in the wall elsewhere and it doesn't throw a fit — it's more stable.'
Pete: 'The instrumentation of the band has reached a point now where we haven't moved a great deal forward since the last album — we have a few odds and ends that are new. I'm still using a King 3B trombone with a Barcus Berry pickup feeding through a Roland pitch-to-voltage synthesiser. I'm now fairly happy with that sound, and the thing I like about it is that no-one else has used it, and nor are they likely to. Quite often, some of the sounds we've used in the past have become common currency in other groups — you might hear other microcomposer things around, other SDS-V things. But you won't hear electronic trombone very much, you won't hear Lyricon very much, and you won't even hear the Casio too much. The next step for me, actually, would be to put the P/V through another synth, but I'm happy for the moment — most of the alterations I make can be done on the desk as far as recording goes. On Long Way Home, the Lyricon plus my brass part works well, the P/V really screams out — you can get quite an unusual synthesised brass sound without using computer or keyboards, which at the moment is unique.'
Chris: 'I recently got a Minimoog — I borrowed one, and then when I heard they were going to stop making them I decided to buy one. It's a very good machine still, very quick to use. I mean, really, synthesisers haven't changed at all from those beginnings, they're all basically made up of the same things. Mind you, so are pianos! I still play Fender Rhodes, and my CS80 — there haven't really been any major changes in my keyboards. I have a Casio 202 too, which I find useful. And now the Minimoog.'
Pete: 'Andy's got a new bass synthesiser that he's adapted for his own use, you can't get hold of it now, the original components aren't available. Basically, it gives a normal bass guitar a synthesised sound, it sounds like it could have been played on a keyboard synthesiser, but it still has the feel of a bass guitar — you couldn't actually play it on a keyboard. It's a modifier with envelope generators — two of them linked up. That's actually given the bottom end an interesting sound, and a sound that you won't hear in other bands.'
Chris: 'Richard's been using the SDS-V throughout the whole album, plus the Roland 606 drum machine. The hi-hat's quite good on the 606, you can get quite good feels on it if you know what to do with the hi-hat, what hi-hat players would play, and of course Richard does. The SDS-V has a rather disappointing hi-hat, but we did use the new cymbal module, that Dave Simmons has recently designed, on a few tracks. That's brilliant, you can get anything from a big tam-tam sound right down to the splash. And it's a different thing anyway from the other SDS stuff: it's actually digitally recorded.'
Pete: 'John's still playing the Lyricon and the Lyricon driver through a Roland Pro-Mars. The problem is that Bill Bernardi, the Lyricon inventor, has gone bust, so if John has any problems it's very difficult to get any odd technical faults fixed because nobody knows anything about them.'
Chris: 'It's a great pity because the Lyricon, particularly the Lyricon 1, is an amazing, quite revolutionary idea.'
Pete: 'I'm sure one of the reasons why the Lyricon hasn't caught on is because people just don't believe that such a major step could be made just like that.'
Chris: 'And of course horn players are rather more conservative in a sense — keyboard players have a history of different keyboards, I mean they come out every week. Whereas a saxophone is a saxophone.'
Chris: 'One of the things that we're going to find a bit tricky with equipment is that now we're gearing up to play live again — we haven't done since the end of February 1980. We'll be playing bigger places now, and I found I was overdriving my equipment then, so I'm going to have to up the power from my Quad 405 power amp and Gauss speakers. So I've borrowed a Yamaha power amp that doubles the power, and I'll have to get the speakers re-coned (laughs). If you're playing bigger places the speakers need to be further away and you obviously need more power and volume for that — in small places you're never more than about six or seven feet from your speaker.'
Pete: 'Possibly what we'll do is to use our original Vitavox PA system with our own amps to give us monitoring on-stage. Using the SDS-V for example, they need to be pretty loud for everyone to hear. At the moment we're still working out exactly how we're going to do it.'
Chris: 'In fact I think we've decided we'll be financially better off using the PA company's foldback.'
Pete: 'At the moment the big problem is that the stuff we play, especially off the Tea Rooms album involves Chris particularly in a lot of work. There's a proposal that we get an extra keyboard player who possibly sings as well to help that area too and take some of the load off Chris. Also, possibly, to get an extra drummer in so that when Richard's singing lead he doesn't play too much. For a show you don't really want the lead singer stuck behind the drums all the time. The alternative to those proposals is to have Chris working really hard and to use computer drums. We'd probably have to hire an operator anyway — Richard would still be playing tom toms when he's singing, and in instrumentals he'd play as normal. But we're still working that out; it looks pretty likely that the dates will be in mid-July.'
Chris: 'Looking at it in a very clinical way, you could think, well, if we've got to take a computer, we've got to take a spare one just in case something goes wrong, we've got to get someone who knows how to operate it and they'll have to sit by it all the time, throughout the performance. So that means an extra person, hiring an extra computer, making sure all the patches are right on the necessary modular synth. And you sort of think, maybe we'll just have a couple of guys along...'
Pete: 'What I find interesting now is that synthesisers and electronic music have been relatively quickly accepted by the public, in the last two years, to the point where they'll actually accept, or prefer synthesised sound to a regular drum kit, say — they actually like tacky, synthesised strings and so on. A large proportion of the Top-40 has some strong electronic angle.'
Chris: 'But with recording, it would be nice if things went back to sticking up a mic. Laying things down separately and meticulously producing things is what's stuck in the charts now — Trevor Horn's stuff and so on — all packaged-up and very nice. That has a quality of its own, but I do find a great deal of that, as I find a great deal of pop music generally pretty sterile. And given that I do consider that sterility has a charm of its own, it's not something that I'd generally warm to.'
Interview by Tony Bacon
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